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Thursday, January 6, 2022

The Bygone Golden Blogging Age

While trying to spin this place back up, I've been looking over my old blogroll, and found so many of them more or less abandoned. Others are still "active" but have been.... hijacked. Someone bought the domain and is making posts, but they're just trolling for referral link traffic now, clearly not the original author or content.

Removed most of these now, but it's sad, there's still a lot of good (but old) content out there on some of them.  Maybe I'll circle around and re-add the ones abandoned in place under the heading of Dead Blogs I Liked, lol.

It shows how long I've been sidelined from the blog scene that I didn't even notice them also going dark, though. The golden age of blogging has apparently passed us by.

There must be some good ones left somewhere, though.  I especially liked the fire, cop, EMS and 911 dispatch blogs that were personal in nature. I was able to look around and find a handful of candidates to add and we will see where they go.

I'm not sure how many readers I still have (surely not as many as I once had since I was gone for so long myself) but if you're still there and know of some other good ones still going, please comment below so I can check them out and we can all try to stick together.

Monday, January 3, 2022


There have been a few challenges in this great reset.  But it seems to be working out so far.

Let me just say, though, that in many ways it is a hell of a lot easier to be a new guy who knows nothing, than a new guy who knows things. How much that helps or hurts, as it turns out, is greatly dependent on the culture of where you land.  Between the cultures of the new power company and the new (old) fire department, the differences have been stark.

It turned out that my new power company historically is known for basically never hiring external power dispatcher candidates. If I had known that going in, there's a fair chance that I would not have even put my name in the bin due to the long odds. But as luck would have it, out of a staff of fourteen dispatchers, they had three openings in short order due to retirements and other factors. Normally they could have handled this because they had enough notice, but COVID gummed up the hiring processes and they ended up behind the ball. As a result, when the logjam was broken, they needed one of the three new hires to be experienced so they could get up to speed within like six months or so instead of the normal 18-24 month training period. And that person ended up being me.

Now it is no secret that I think that I'm really good at what I do, but it still felt pretty good to be the #1 pick for this rare external hire out of a nationwide search. Yeah.

Also, for the record, I put my name in the bin for jobs at other power companies in my plan to relocate. I was offered a job at another one just two days after I was offered this one, before I made it a point to call around and withdraw myself from those other processes.

#1 pick for two nationwide searches in the same week? Yeah, that feels nice.

Anyway... culture.....

At the new power company, open discussion and questioning is encouraged.  My new supervisors and coworkers have all been very open to me talking about my previous jobs. They know very well that this company tends to hire from within, there's not a lot of external influence and therefore not a lot of diversity in ways of thinking about how to do things. When I see something that I think could be done better, they have encouraged me to talk about it, which is pretty amazing really. To be fair, after I say "this is how we did it at this other place", more often than not the response is "that's nice, and interesting, you make some very good points, but we're probably not going to change that right away".  And I'm fine with that.  It's just wonderful being invited to contribute ideas that get a genuine listen. What an amazing culture. Open to discussion, challenges to the norm, respectful discourse. Glorious.

At the fire department, not so much.

I resolved from the very beginning to try to not be "that guy", particularly since in this case I was returning to an agency where there was still some familiarity, a handful of guys I worked with in my earliest Fire days are still here. Still.... mouth shut. Smile and wave. Yeah.... I'm not always very good at that.

Fell in with the old guys well enough for the most part, as I had found and then stayed in touch with many of them via social media, so I was not a total unknown to them.  But there are also of course a lot of newer guys here.  "New" being relative, of course, a lot can happen in 20+ years of absence.  Namely, the agency went through a couple of painful Chiefs, the second of which was so bad that as far as I can tell nearly the entire staff threatened a collective resignation to the City unless something was done. The City got rid of that guy, but the culture damage done over almost two decades of poor leadership had taken root. 

Cases in point: One of the first things I helped with upon rejoining was hose testing. Quite a few recruits and fellow probies there. When three of them grabbed LDH to drag them out, I tried to tell them it was easier work if they'd space themselves out. When multiple people grab hose and they're just a few feet apart, the last person ends up doing the actual pull while the others are carrying just the few pounds of hose in their hands. Also, almost no one was wearing a lid when the LDH and attack lines were pressurized. I've personally seen hoses fail during tests and had couplings launch. That crap can kill you. Tried to suggest people get those helmets on. At least one of the (relatively) older members was greatly affronted by me offering advice (some of it potentially life saving), and he talked crap to a few other members, and that greatly set back my reintroduction to the agency. Maybe I didn't need to give advice about the hose pull and should have just smiled and waved, but I was a trainer for too long, it is in my nature. I won't apologize for suggesting lids be worn, though.

People are just showing up and doing their jobs. People are easily butthurt. People are not open to discussion or mutual improvement to the team. Basically, unless you see something so dangerous that injury is probable, it seems that you mind your own business and look the other way.  And sometimes even in those cases....

This is a horrible culture that is going to get someone hurt or killed.

This has also led to a culture of insecurities and jealousy for some. We don't have room for that in this business. Check your feelings at the door. If I do something wrong or could do it better, I want you to tell me so we can have a rational conversation about it, and if necessary we can do some mutual investigation and fact finding to find the best answers. I might have been right all along, or I might be wrong, and there's also probably more information to inject into the conversation that properly sets context, instead of  just operating with the base assumptions that started the discussion, and until we know, we.... don't. That's how we all improve ourselves professionally. It's not personal. That attitude is lacking amongst several members here, and those members cannot process how much of a barrier that is to their professional development. And as such, in their positions of relative experience and authority, they are passing those errors downstream to new recruits who don't know better.

If I could just bide my time and wait until I am re-established here, then I would be able to gradually try to bend the culture back in the right direction. But there's a wrinkle.... my lovely new bride also decided to join the department.  She is totally new to Fire.  You think you worry about your crew getting home safely, and your trainees being able to absorb enough to keep themselves alive? And now that person is your spouse. Pressure? Worry? Yeah.

So in like our second month back, the wife and I were going over SCBA, just the two of us, with the blessing of the on duty captain whom I've known for a long time. Sean comes into the station, sees us on the floor with a pack.  Being a new (and insecure) Captain who wants to assert his superiority and position, he asks if we need help. Now, I know he is insecure and I want to help him feel better about himself, and I don't want him to feel challenged by me, so I gratefully defer and let him take over.

In my best Dave Barry voice, I swear I am not making this up, he starts going over the various components of the SCBA, and when he gets to the emergency bypass valve, he says "you can use this thing to defog your mask if you need to", and then moves on.  Never identifies it by its actual name. Never mentions what it is actually for, never explains how to operate it, never discusses why you might need to use it.

Dude, you're a Captain.  Really?

Mouth shut. Smile and wave. I can fix this with her later. Right?

Then he moves on and shows her the ICM.... the module with the analog and digital pressure gauges, and the motion sensing unit, that hangs in front of your chest, and says "here's the regulator..."

I can't. I just can't. But still trying to defer to his insecurities and not be "that guy", I try leave him an escape. I know people have different names for the ICM... or just don't know what to call it in the first place.

"What's that? We called it the ICM where I came from, but what is it called here, so I know?", and I casually pick up the actual regulator and make like I'm verifying the bypass is closed.

"We call it the regulator. It's the regulator."

"I thought this was the regulator." I hold it up.

Dave Barry voice. I swear I am not making this up. He doubles down. "No, that just goes on the front of your mask, this is the regulator."

I simply couldn't find the strength to keep my mouth shut. "I've never heard that called the regulator. I'm pretty sure this is the regulator..." (holding it up) "... because this is the emergency bypass which allows higher pressure into your facepiece in case the regulator fails. If that was the regulator, there would not be higher pressure available here at this valve."

I honestly don't remember what all happened after that, but I do know that I basically said we would have to agree to disagree and that he abbreviated the rest of the session and bugged out, but let's just say our relationship has not been the same since. I've watched him bluster through a few other situations, and felt bad for him and his insecurities.... to a point. He's had a couple of times to condescend towards me about "you said you have all this experience when you interviewed, but I haven't really seen it". If you knew how much I wasn't saying, you'd know a thing or two about my experience, Sean.

A part of me dies inside every time we run a call and the chauffeur and officer are more concerned with stomping the Q to death and using the airhorn - through green lights at 3AM - than driving with due regard. Dude, let go of the airhorn chain and put both hands on the wheel.  If something goes wrong, yanking on that chain is not going to be the thing that saves us. Did I mention that our rig, the third out of the house on one of those calls, was halfway out of the bay when the unit that responded before us was canceled by Command, yet we responded anyway by carefully not announcing that we were en route? In order for Sean to sit in the front right seat and make noise and feel important for a few minutes?

Smile and wave.

A few months have gone by since these episodes, and the waters are finally beginning to settle. Thankfully the number of guys with butthurt and insecurity are not in the majority, though their influence is still significant.  There are years of poor formation that will take more years to undo, because so many people just turn the other way because what should be a minor behavioral correction with minimal coaching has turned into hills no one wants to die on.

Next task: Convince certain influential people here that 100psi at the tip is absolutely not appropriate for smoothbore nozzles. They train here to operate all lines for 100psi at the tip no matter what hardware is on the end of the line. Getting zero traction on this so far, but I'm a new guy so I can only push so hard without making those waves. Help.

I'm not trying to bag heavily on my new (old) fire agency.  There are a lot of great people here, and it is a great organization overall, but I remember what it was and know where it can be again. There's work to do here.

If you have a good culture, be ever so thankful for it, and cultivate it constantly.  Recovering it when it is lost is an enormous task. I sure wish some certain new fire compadres could know what it feels like to work in a cooperative atmosphere, one where everyone is on the same team and has the same goals unhindered by sensitive feelings, where a conflict is seen as a growth opportunity, not an attack, without the fear that someone is going to undermine them and pin them with gotchas. Bad culture is toxic. It's not entirely their fault, but they have now become the obstacle to progress... the trick is making some of them realize it. If they were to read this, would they even recognize themselves as such.... or just be offended some more and allow the cycle to continue? I want to bring them to the power company job and let them see what it is like to, you know.... actually selflessly work together.

Or, maybe.... maybe I'm just an insufferable know it all pain in the ass.  Can't rule that out I guess.

All that said, overall it is GREAT to be back.

Stay safe out there, and hug your loved ones.